In 1999, plans started forming to provide a safe place for Madison County’s children to “hang out.” By April of 2001, the location was decided and a five-year lease was signed. The club opened in October of 2001 and in November of 2001 the Boys & Girls Club of America provided Madison County a charter certificate. Today, the Club has 782 members and a mission statement reading, “To inspire and enable all young people of Madison County, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.”
The center proudly displays the Boys & Girls Club sign outside, but nothing can prepare visitors for what is inside. A desk is located just inside the door to provide a check in station for the children and a pick up station for the parents. Beyond the desk is an enormous room full of bright colors, couches, toys, games, tables, and playful children. The area is basically one large room with doors on each wall. Every door leads to a special activity room. One room is for the youngest children to play, one for the youth, a reading lounge, computer center, an arts and crafts room, preteen corner, and an open room for “on the spot games.” The center of the room is full of video games, pool tables, board games, a small jungle gym, and a sound system to play music.
Executive Director, Matthew Deffendall, recognizes that there are several reasons the Club functions as well as it does. The Club works with local Resource Centers, Berea College, Eastern Kentucky University, the Library Book Mobile, local schools, the health department, and the Mt. Maternal for Smart Children Program. “We see them on a different level,” explains Deffendall. He knows that because the children come to let loose and relax, they are more likely to share their concerns and problems with the Club’s employees. These problems can then be shared with local services to help provide solutions.
Another reason the Club is excelling the way it does is because of its employees and volunteers. The Club has eighteen employees and a handful of volunteers. Eastern Kentucky University students can receive cooperative class credit for working at the Club, and can be employed there under the Kentucky Work Study program. Berea College students can also work at the Club to fulfill their College Labor Requirements. The Club is always excited to see community volunteers help out with their programs.
Safety requirements are present in the Club to protect all workers and children. All staff are required to go through CPR training and monthly staff development meetings. To work at the Club full time they call for a degree in Child Development or Education. All of the children receive an identification card when they register into the program. The children must present the card to enter the Club and they must also use it to leave. The card is simply scanned and the computer records how often the child is there and what times they are there. This system helps employees quickly check the computer to see how many children they have in the room, and of what ages. Each card has a colored dot on it to represent the child’s age group. Some areas of the Club are restricted for older children, while others are restricted for younger children. Children under the age of twelve are required to be checked out by an approved adult in order to leave. This provides an extra amount of safety to the younger children.
For children to be in the Club they are required to be between the ages of six and eighteen; they must fill out an information sheet, have parental consent, and agree to the set rules. The entry price is five dollars per child for the whole year. This is an extremely low price, considering it costs the Club approximately $400 dollars a year per child. Deffendall explains that 70% of what runs the Club comes from community donations. The USDA provides a summer feeding program that helps the Club provide some food for breakfast and lunch; while, the dinner cooking classes are made possible through CAP and the Food Bank.
During the school year, the Club averages approximately 147 students a day. During the summer, the Club averages approximately 90 children per day, and 60 in their camps. Deffendall explains that, during the school year the school buses provide direct transportation from the schools to the Club. During the summer the children are less likely to find a ride. To combat this situation they have purchased a van. Not only will the van allow transportation to the Club, but it will also enable the children to embark on field trips around the county.
The children find the Boys and Girls Club a wonderful place to socialize and relax. Playing pool, riding bikes, participating in “wacky hairdo” contests and “just being crazy” are favorites of the children at the Club. Plus, the workers have just as much fun as the kids. “I think about where our children were before the club opened. We may be the only smiling face or hug they get each day. We may be the only promise that there is a future for them beyond Berea. It’s [the Club] an investment in our future that develops over time,” comments Matthew Deffendall.
Written by Hannah Billings
Copyright 2002 BereaOnline.com